I’m really going to miss those guys. Seriously. I won’t miss everyone constantly complaining about them, but the men in black and white stripes will be missed. At least by me. I can proudly say that. The replacement refs spiced up football. For the better. They got people laughing, crying, yelling – all good emotions that football lacks. Football has sadly morphed into a game of boring stats and illuminated laptops. These officiating gunslingers made the product a bit more entertaining. They were winging it. Learning as they went along. I liked not knowing where they were going. You had to stay with them. Listen hard, concentrate and they rewarded you every time.
What a fun ride it was. In a game that cherishes order, I liked seeing a little chaos. Nothing better than watching a game break down from the inside. Best to sit back and enjoy the show. It’s why for the life of me I couldn’t fathom boycotting the games. They were all great fun.
Everyone likes to officiate at home by calling pass interference and holding penalties from the sunken seat cushions of our apartments. With these champs, playing it fast and loose, there was no telling where they’d go. They were full of surprises. Mysteries at each corner. Not like the robotic pros who care little about drama.
I hope the real refs aren’t cheered tonight. Some have written that they deserve a standing ovation for simply returning to work. I hope they are booed to tears. When the so-called pros botch an easy call early in the first quarter chants of “bring them back” should spread across the stadium.
It will tickle me to hear spineless announcers go back to the days of holding their tongues on poor officiating. The replacements reinvigorated broadcasters, allowing them to criticize without the threat of reprisal. Once the pros are back, I doubt any will have the onions to acknowledge referee incompetence.
Still, none of that really matters to me. I just like football. I don’t care who the refs are. The rules are ridiculously complicated. The game is what interests me. The ball. Throws and catches and sometimes, even big time kicks. That’s why we watch, isn’t it? Bad calls are as much a part of sports as good calls. The replacement refs were good for the little guy – the underdog in all of us. They tried to fit in with the big boys. So what if it didn’t go smoothly.
The genuine refs are not the NFL’s custodians, set out to preserve the game’s integrity. The game has no integrity. They are the game’s only janitors. Meant to clean up after the athletes. Take out the trash the owners left behind. The real referees should abide by a single rule – stay out of the way. The game is not about you. If you wanted to be an arbiter of things that actually matter, try law school. Until then, toss your silly little flags and enjoy the world’s greatest part-time gig.
You see, the replacement refs didn’t make the story about them. The players and coaches did that. The pundits and experts did that. And we the fans did it too. All groups bitching about the spot of the ball or any obscure rule they could find. We love getting outraged about things that do not matter – replacement referees – and ignoring things that do – rampant concussions and early onset dementia in retired players. This was no different. Too bad you can’t throw flags to penalize self-righteousness.
It’s just football. Only now, in a sad irony, the replacement refs have been replaced. Not much will change though. You can count on that. So tonight, pour one out for the little guy. Shed a tear for the blue-collar ref who doesn’t quite understand simultaneous possession. We must never forget these legends. They were thrown into an unenviable position of great conflict, but ended up transcending the game.
Let’s see Ed Hochuli do that.